The first thing to do when you head out bug hunting with your kids is keep an open mind. "A lot of times (we think), oh, bugs are gross, but this kind of attitude makes kids a little apprehensive or frightened to explore nature, particularly insects," says Eileen Prendergast, manager of youth and family programs at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
But bug hunts are an easy way to spend a summer day. They can
take place in your backyard and equipment can consist of a
dollar-store magnifying lens. Start out by talking with your child
about where bugs might be, then start searching.
"They're little creatures; they'll be in hidden spaces," Prendergast says. "You want to get down on the ground and look under rocks or tree bark." Remind kids that magnifiers go close to the object they're looking at, rather than close to their eye (where it will only magnify the kids' eyeball).
Bring out sketch pads or an inexpensive camera to record what you see for later research. It's OK to catch and release, too, Prendergast says. If there's an insect on a flower or leaf, use an empty plastic container that's see-through, hold it underneath the insect and use the lid to gently knock it into the container. After observing it, release the bug back to its home.
To catch flying insects, use a net and sweep the area by dragging the net along shrubbery, then check to see what turns up. Be careful about touching bugs, since even certain species of ants can bite.
And don't forget evening bug hunts, Prendergast says. Go out at night with a flashlight to watch moths or some of the other insects that are attracted to light.
For information on bug camps held by the Botanic Garden, visit chicagobotanic.org.